We Who Must Not Be Named

If you, like me, spend a lot of perfectly good time reading author, editor, and agent blogs, then you may have heard that writers fall into two camps: plotters and pantsers.

Let me stop there. I really can’t go on until I complain about what terrible, awful names these are. “Plotter,” which makes it sound like Dr. Doom is penning his memoirs, is actually the better of the two. I won’t dignify “pantser” with an analysis. Do I have a better suggestion? No, I do not. This is full-on First Amendment non-constructive criticism, right here. But honestly. Pantser? Pantser? We asked a community of people for whom picking words is a job to name a subset of themselves, and they turn trousers into a verb?


The names are about how you plan your book before you write it. Plotters outline the plot first, whereas pantsers jump into the first draft without knowing quite where it’s all headed – writing by the seat of their pants, as it were. (Outliners and freestylers, I’m going to call them from now on, even though those names are lame too, because honestly.)

A lot of writers – the majority, from what I can gather – are freestylers. Isaac Asimov knew his beginning and his ending when he started a book, but nothing else. Stephen King doesn’t even know his endings ahead of time. To me, that’s inconceivable. I have to know exactly where everything is going before I go anywhere.

That choice has serious implications for how the books turn out, but I’m running out of time. I’ll continue this on Monday. Happy weekend, everybody.

8 responses to “We Who Must Not Be Named

  1. Excited about the blog. Really? Pantsters? I’m not sure why that reminds me of hamsters but it does.. I will be tuning in =)

  2. I came here because I wanted to hate you for bidding on Wendig’s critique thing. Not that you were the only one, you were just the last and I can’t outbid you. So you get my ire.

    But you made me crack the fuck up, so now I have to re-evaluate.

    Damn you. I will most definitely be quoting this sometime soon.

  3. “Pantster” or “hamster” whatever. That’s me. I outline who my main characters are, get to know them (in my head and heart) and then let them go wherever they want. I don’t even have to leave my chair to follow ’em. 🙂

    • Sue – I think it’s great you can do that. It’s something I’m trying to improve on, myself. The follow-up post I’m planning (plotting?) for Monday will delve into the pros and cons of following the characters versus following the outline, and whether it’s possible to do both!

  4. One of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, had mentioned at some point something commonly attributed to George R.R. Martin, about this topic. Martin’s names for the modes of writing are “Gardener” and “Architect”, with the former being a ‘pantser’ and the latter being a ‘plotter’.

    I tried to find the article about it, but I think now that it was maybe a video interview with Sanderson I watched many months ago when he talked about about the topic, and that’s a bit harder to find specific details.

    So, failing that, here’s an essay by Sanderson (I thought the mention was in this one, but it wasn’t. Oh well, it’s a really good article!). I hope you like it.

    (BTW, followed you from the Sargeras days. So glad you’re blogging again!)

    • Hey! Always glad to see a Sargeras reader. I do like “Gardener” and “Architect.” The former implies a certain structure even as you let the story grow organically, which is right, and the latter suggests careful planning without limiting it to just one aspect: the plot.

      That Sanderson essay was very interesting too. I read the whole thing. I never had much formal training in English after high school, so literary theory is one area I’m still playing catchup with the MFA folks.

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